The 2011 Cheltenham festival is just over nine weeks away. The hype, the buzz, the glory will soon be upon us, no doubt time will fly during the run up.
With the big winter freeze taking the scalp of so many big races, plenty of top class trials will be run much closer to March than usual. Nine weeks will sail by! With more anticipation and wait ready to warm the racing fraternity’s hearts, the onset of Cheltenham will send us into an overheated state. Twelve Grade One races, two Grade Two’s, six Grade Three’s and a host of other top class competitive handicaps means all four days are jam packed with pinnacle action. This years festival kicks off on Tuesday the 15th of March and concludes the following Friday.
Tuesday 15th March – Centenary Day
Day one of the festival sees the two mile champion hurdlers take centre stage in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. Last year saw Nicky Henderson’s Binocular come back to emphatic form and take the prize. J.P McManus’ star hurdler will be back to reclaim his crown and try and join past greats like Istabraq and Hardy Eustace.
The opening race of the meeting will see the massive ‘Cheltenham roar’ greet the Supreme Novice Hurdle competitors, an event over two miles half a furlong. Top class hurdlers and chasers are always unleashed in this race. Class acts like Brave Inca and this year’s Champion hurdle contender, Menorah, are notable victors.
The Arkle Challenge Trophy will help make up a trio of Grade One races on day one. The novice chase event over the minimum trip means slick jumping accompanied by speed is necessary. A whole host of past winners have gone on to be greats and the same can be said about those in behind. Your Moscow Flyers, Azertioups, Well Chiefs and Voy Por Ustedes’ all have their names etched into the Arkle trophy.
The above three Grade Ones are supported by four other cracking races; the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase and the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase.
Wednesday 16th March – Ladies Day
Day two of the Cheltenham festival is sure to see a bumper crowd with ladies day. The real action will take place on the racecourse however, and many will see their favorite race run, the days highlight, the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Run over two miles at a break neck speed, jumping accuracy is at a premium. One mistake can cost you the race. Blink and you’ll miss it. Last year saw Ireland, Colin Murphy, Barry Geraghty and Big Zeb thwart Master Minded’s three in a row. Both will be back to reclaim their crowns.
Jumping of the larger obstacles is plentiful on day two and another Grade One, the RSA Chase, sees the top staying novice chasers go to post. This year’s line up will be hoping to join some previous champions like Florida Pearl, Looks Like Trouble and the tank himself, Denman.
Like day one, a trio of Grade One races will be run with the third being the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle. The classy Istabraq took this way back in 1997 while last year saw another top class prospect, Peddlers Cross, win a thrilling race. The two mile five furlong trip means a nice blend of speed and stamina is needed.
The only flat race to be run at the meeting, the Cheltenham bumper, will conclude the days racing. Again, stars of the future will be unleashed. Florida Pearl, Dunguib and Cue Card are just some of the nicer types to claim the Wednesday finale.
Three supporting races; the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle and the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle help structure a superb day two.
Thursday 17th March – St. Patrick’s Day
How the Irish would love to claim Thursday’s showpiece, the World Hurdle, on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve shaken my magic eight ball, it has responded “outlook bleak”. I wonder why? I’ll tell you why, in two little words, Big Bucks. Paul Nicholls’ star has been the best horse in training in recent seasons, simply unstoppable. It’s hard to see any body stopping him in his quest for three in a row.
A recent addition to the festival, the Ryanair Chase, has certainly added some class to the meeting. Some considered it to be a poor mans Gold Cup, but, this is not the case. The intermediate trip simply gives top class staying chasers more options. Imperial Commander brought Voy Por Ustedes down to earth back in 2009 before going on to Gold Cup glory last year. Will we see another Gold Cup contender this year?
Just the two Grade Ones on Thursday, but, four top competitive handicaps will keep punters happy. The four are the Jewson Novices Chase, the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle, the Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
Friday 18th March – Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Day
Unfortunately the dream will come to an end on Gold Cup day, but, what a way to bow out. Gold Cup day is always spectacular, the Gold Cup alone. The race pits the world’s best steeple chasers against each other as they all chase the Blue ribbon prize. There is every chance we’ll have three previous winners taking each other on this year, Kauto Star, Denman and Imperial Commander. The old boys have been there done that, but, there are young pretenders stepping up. All three champions will need to be at the top of their games. A fascinating race is in store.
The final day will open with another Grade One as the juvenile hurdlers take to the Prestbury slopes for the JCB Triumph Hurdle. The race is reserved for four-year-old’s only and is the highest level of introductory national hunt racing. Future stars are known to have run well here with previous winners including Commanche Court, Katchit, Celestial Halo and Zaynar.
The Albert Bartlett Hurdle, like the Ryanair Chase, is a new race to the meeting, but, has already thrown up a top class prospect in Weapon’s Amnesty. The novice event over three miles will surely throw up more superstars in the coming years.
The Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle, the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup shall see us off after a wonderful weeks racing.
Only nine weeks to go, make sure you stay tuned for some top class ante post advice.